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tv   [untitled]    February 24, 2012 1:00am-1:30am EST

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age 57, the year he became president of the united states. it's about an hour and 15 minutes. >> thank you, kay, for that excessively kind introduction. thank you all of you for making the effort to be here and thank you, kay, and the marvelous staff on mount vernon and all of you who have made the long match with me across this trilogy. i also want to say a special word of thanks to c spanned the c-span audience for taking such an interest in our first president.
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most of all, i feel indebted to the mount vernon's ladies association for sponsoring this lecture series and giving me a second chance, as it were, to spend some quality time with the greatest of americans. almost 20 years have passed since the book that gay was kind enough to mention first i had forgotten what pleasurable company the president can be. you don't have to quite a book about washingtonlusi.
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for any watchful visitor that mount vernon can attest, just when you think you've got his measure, the hold man will challenge your assumptions. case in point, in the autumn of 1787, newly returned from
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constitution making in philadelphia towards washington turn his attention to somewhat more prosaic matters. the squire of mount vernon needed a gardener and approached the job search with the same insight that so impressed his fellow delegates, he drew a contract with a hard drinking candidate after solemnly making him due his duties sober. $2 at easter to effect the same purpose and $2 at witten tide to be drunk for two days and drink at dinner and at noon. the thought of a wry bemuzed washington tolerant of human frailty, harboring his own doubts and vulnerability -- indeed many students of washington, the only thing about the man that exceeds his desire for control is his capacity for self-control. undoubtedly this helps to explain the dutiful side of our first president, but it is only a fraction of the man's inner self or indeed of his public character. it's not easy for us to think as washington as conflicted.
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a man's whose instinct was on power about his ambivalence. harder still, this tension with the unruffled confidence of washington at 57 as he stands on balcony of new york's federal hall in a suit of connecticut broad cloth, ready to embark upon an office more stunly tailored to his out sized dimensions as a leader. in gazing up at the third life like washington in mount vernon's new education center, we figure if we join an audience of 10,000 new yorkers on a history making spring day in 1789. intensely aware of his place on stage, the man at the center of the action has long grown accustomed to watching himself being watched. on april 30th, 1789, his lead part in a largely unscripted drama at the head of a government is yet more conceptual than real. quote, we now stand in independent people and have yet to learn political tactics. washington told his youthful protege and son, we are based on
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the earth and have a character to establish. in many ways washington's vision of the american republic was to be an extension of his own character. because he credited harsh self-discipline in realizing his personal destiny, he embraced a energetic government as the only means of protecting a fragile union from flying apart. because he balanced executive vigor with personal restraint, he gave us a government strong enough to lead and wise enough to listen. at what cost to his own repose and piece of mind. the roar of the crowd compensated for the sacrifice of an aging hero whose memory was failing and whose hearing was unreliable or so he claimed, by rheumatoid arthritis and desire for a simpler more rustic existence far outweighed his taste for ceremony or patience
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with adulation. few knew how reluctant washington was to accept the presidency. in the months preceding his inaugural, he had but one wish, quote, to live and die in my own plantation. it is said every man has his portion of ambition. he explained to his earliest biographers david humfries, i may have mine as well as the rest but if i know my own heart, my ambition would not lead me into public life. to henry knox, he went further likening himself to quote, a culprit who is going to the place of his execution. washington found consolation in the possibility of resigning halfway through his term after having went the new regime the legitimacy that only he could bestow, could you imagine if he followed through on that fantasy. how you would have transformed not only the presidency which might very well become a prime ministerial position at which the government is nominally the head.
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this fantasy does nothing to elevate his mood on inauguration day. i fear i must bid adieu to happiness on the eve of his presidential oath taking, for i see nothing but clouds and darkness before me and i call god to witness the day which you'll carry me again into public life will be a more distressing one than anyone i may ever know. sound familiar? it should. washington used language almost as dour to denigrate, even as he downed his regimental uniform to advertise his availability. his humility was enough and so was his youthful desire for recognition and in later years the favorable notice of posterity. of course, i have to say washington and those around him had a great advantage denied to
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today's leaders. when they worried about appearances, they could in fact afford to take the long view, which is another way of saying they didn't worry about brian williams. let alone howard stern. it is difficult by contrast to imagine today's pretenders to the throne conducting the same anguished interior dialogue that is so revealing of george washington and his character. for washington so self-conscious about the figure he cut, it was not enough to be virtuous. he must be seen to be virtuous. after the war, he turned down grants of land and rejected out of hand an effort by pennsylvania officials to petition the continental congress for money on his behalf.
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he agonized over whether to accept a gift of 150 shares in a virginia canal company voted him about a grateful virginia assembly. how would this mat every be viewed by the eyes of the world, he asked. to pocket the prize might smack of a public pension, compromising his self-less position. at the same time he was a passionate advocate of canals who did not wish to offend the assembly by making himself look in his words, austentatiously disinterested. he sought advice in the matter from jefferson and lafayette. his anxiety was real. so was his relief. when he finally decided to


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